On street corners from Texas to North Carolina, Johnny Brusco's Pizza serves up piping-hot slices of New York, and that's not whistling Dixie. It's not even kazooing Yankee. The franchise boasts a lineage that stretches back to 1965, when pie-smith Johnny Pace opened up his pizzeria just outside of Syracuse. Though the menu stays true to Johnny's classic style, today's crust-tossers aren't afraid to switch things up in modern style. Gluten-watchers can dig into a flour-free variant of the crust, and their specialties include such daring choices as a cream cheese pizza, a Philly-esque steak and cheese, and a zesty gourmet pie with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and artichokes. Outside of the round stuff, diners might select a summery strawberry-pecan salad, a classic plate of bruschetta with pesto, mozzarella, and marinara sauce, and a finger-licking dessert of cinna-knots.
Hand-tossed wheat or white crusts lay a golden base for Wheat State Pizza’s signature pies. Chefs spread cream-cheese sauce across a doughy foundation before sprinkling chicken, mushrooms, and provolone onto the Hawk’N Cheese pie, which comes with a high-pitched whistle that will summon it from the table to a gloved hand. Along with its inventive taco, buffalo, and barbecue-beef specialty pies, Wheat State Pizza bakes up make-your-own disks topped with the customer’s choice of three dozen different ingredients, from the familiar pepperoni and mushrooms to the unusual corn, cashews, and sunflower seeds. Philly-steak and barbecue-brisket sandwiches buttress the pie-centric menu, and fresh calzones sizzle with a similar taste to pizza that’s less messy to snack on while steering a jet ski that’s been modified to make the ride choppier.
The people behind Gambino’s Pizza really love pizza, and they’ll make any pie in the shape of a heart to prove it. Traditional round pies are on the menu, too, in five sizes and three crust options: original, thin, or buttery pan. Specialty pizzas overflow with meats, veggies, and a blend of shredded mozzarella and provolone cheese. Some are even topped with sweet pineapple to round out the food pyramid. Diners can also order oven-baked subs and individual- or family-size pasta dishes that come with garlic bread and napkins folded into tiny togas.
At Simple Simon?s Pizza, pies are anything but simple. The kitchen can whip up traditional pizzas, such as the Hawaiian and the green-pepper-and-sausage-bedecked Supreme, but the chefs really use their culinary imaginations when it comes to the house-specialty pizzas, which come topped with anything from hamburger and pickles to lettuce and potato chips. Simple Simon?s ovens also bake up calzones and stromboli. Chicken wings in flavors such as barbecue, Cajun, or hot wings round out the menu, along with desserts such as sweet bites of breadsticks wearing a cinnamon and icing disguise.
At two locations, The Other Place’s staff fires up ovens to bake pizzas, italian subs, and sandwiches to a golden brown—the color of Pharaoh’s mask after he eats a chocolate bar. Atop hand-made pizza crusts made from a 40-year-old recipe, the kitchen team layers toppings such as italian sausage, salami, and sun-dried tomatoes, lubricated by tomato, alfredo, and barbecue sauce. Submarine-shaped bread holds italian meats, veggies, and toppings. In both eateries’ dining areas, more than 50 TVs stream sports games. The Other Place also often entertains guests with karaoke—America’s most underappreciated sport, and the one with the least funding in most school districts.
Founded in 1964 by a tile maker as an edible canvas on which to practice his square-cutting, Imo’s original St. Louis–style pizza features a thin, cracker-crisp crust topped with homemade sauce and Provel cheese, then sliced into squares. The love child of a culinary fromage a trois between cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses, Provel melts into a soft, creamy pool reminiscent of the delicious dairy lagoons tucked away high in the Swiss Alps, and can be enjoyed on Imo’s pizza for its minimalistic beauty or as a blank canvas for a DIY pizza experience ($12.38–$14.76 base price for a large). Pile on any of Imo’s 14 fresh toppings—including pepperoncini, hamburger, Canadian bacon, and jalapeno—or indulge in one of its popular specialty pies (less than $20 at either location). The all-meat pizza combines sausage, hamburger, bacon, Canadian bacon, and pepperoni, while the veggie deluxe (mushroom, onion, green pepper, and tomato) hosts a stately garden party in one’s mouth.